Now is truly the age of the superhero on screen. Marvel and DC blockbusters may continually dominate the cinema charts but there is certainly always room for movies that attempt to deconstruct the superhero genre. Think Watchmen or Kick Ass where we see superheroes who defy convention with their vigilante ways or Channel 4’s Misfits where your average rebellious youths inadvertently gain superpowers. Jason Trost’s indie film Superheroes Must Die takes on the theme of the latter whilst attempting to evoke a dark and brooding style on a minimal budget, but is this enough to make it original?
Originally released as Vs (it is difficult to decide which title is in fact the worst), protagonists in Superheroes Must Die come in the form of Charge (Jason Trost), Cutthroat (Lucas Till), Shadow (Sophie Merkley) and The Wall (Lee Valmassy). They awaken in an abandoned town, stripped of their individual abilities by arch enemy Rickshaw (James Remar) who communicates with them via video link on various television screens dispersed throughout the town. Irked by years of defeat by the heroes, Rickshaw has created a game of gruesome tasks, rubbing his hands together with glee as they continually fail to save his victims. His mission is clearly to wipe them off the face of the earth one by one and he is determined to have his fun watching their demise.
The underlying concept is similar to Misfits in that this group of youngsters have received their powers through some kind of weather event/meteorite which we are briefly informed about through a series of black and white flashbacks. It is a decent enough concept but unfortunately the movie itself is drowning in issues. It may be low budget, but the truth is that a lack of funds is not the root of the problems. The cast are each individually strong and willing to give their very best, with Till no stranger to the superhero genre after starring as Havok in X-Men: First Class within the same year. Unfortunately though they are all let down by poor characterisation, costume, excruciating dialogue, painfully slow pacing and a bore fest of a plot. The dark, indie style lures you in but the story is too weak to keep you there. It is wracked with implausibility and unanswered questions, including just how Rickshaw managed to clear out an entire town and a lack of back story between he and his adversaries. Looking at the plot, it really does seem like something Trost dreamt up after immersing himself in a superhero and Saw movie marathon. However, where Jigsaw’s masterminded ‘games’ were intelligently sickening, Rickshaw’s just come across as basic and inane. You are almost waiting for him to cry ‘Wa ha ha’ as he watches his enemies suffer, sitting there in a tweed jacket and bow tie like a college professor attempting to look menacing. However, aside from perhaps the cast, a pretty decent electronic score and some interesting angled shots, another of the few glimmers of hope that give you the will to continue to watch are the violent scenes within these games. At these moments when this movie advances into horror it becomes more interesting, particularly when the heroes are faced with a chainsaw-wielding maniac (Sean Whalen) with a demonic grin of self-amusement, but unfortunately these moments are few and far between.
The characters in Superheroes Must Die are wet and dull with no real depth. The laughable Halloween store costumes do not help: given the low budget and the fact that these are meant to be ‘real’ people inflicted with powers, we are not expecting full on Marvel suits with all the trimmings but these costumes look like self-adapted wetsuits. Most of the screen time is riddled with melodramatic monologues about the relationships between the characters. The dialogue is in fact so bad it invokes gasps of disbelief. They ask of each other, “Are you ok?” not just frequently but at the most ridiculous moments. You almost will them to answer, “Yeah someone is about to blow me up, but I’m doing fine, dude, thanks for asking.” Considering the predicament they are in, the heroes walk around at a snail’s pace as the painfully slow plot drags them into oblivion. The truth is you spend much of the time willing something, anything, to happen, feeling more doomed than the victims just for having to sit through it.
The only real saving grace of this movie is that it lasts only seventy-eight minutes. Thank heavens for short running times as try as you might to look at this film with open-mindedness and hope, it mostly just disappoints.